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Published: January 30th 2011
Last night, Monday, we returned to Bangalore. Immediately, on arrival, we changed clothes and and attended a joyful birthday party held for a friend of ours. He is an accomplished musician, and many of the guests shared this attribute. Our friend sang, and many of his friends also did so. Some played the guitar and others the mouth organ. Even though the party finished late and we had been travelling for more than 8 hours, we did not feel tired!
A week earlier, on Monday the 13th July, we set out from Bangalore in our hired car, heading up into northern Karnataka. A remarkably good motorway (autoroute/Autobahn) took us in the direction of Pune and Bombay. After 2 or three hours, we stopped at the village of Sira to take a quick look at the remains of the enormous castle, Still (partially) surrounded by a water filled moat, this castle is largely neglected. After passing through an outer gateway, we entered a weed-filled area between two sets of thick walls. As we walked along, dodging piles of animal excrement, clouds of small multi-coloured butterflies flew up, almost as if greeting us.
We had intended to break our journey at
Chittradurga, a small market town with a remarkable fortress, but when we saw the hotel (reccommended in our guidebook), we decided not to linger. The hotel was picturesque, but quite filthy. In any case, as we had arrived in Chitradurga so fast, we decided to reduce the amount we would have had to travel the next day by pressing on northwards to Hospet. From Chitradurga onwards, we left the four-lane National Highway(NH) number 4, and joined NH 13 a two laned road.
Driving through India (or being driven, as we were) is never dull. Every kind of vehicle is seen. Trucks of all sizes, and in all kinds of coindition. Many of them had black threads hanging from their wing mirrors. These (nazar in Hindustani) are to ward off the evil-eye, and I can understand why they are so popular (see below). There are very few private cars, but many cyclists and motorcyclists. Numerous three-wheelers, often crammed full with passengers, buzz along the highway. Vans filled with goods and also crowds of people add to the traffic. Numerous busses and coaches thunder past with horns blaring. In addition to all of these, the bullock carts, usually pulled by two
beasts, rumble along peacefully. Many pedestrians walk along the road, often gracefully carrying loads on their heads - often ladies bearing water in spherical containers. A cloth ring sits on the carrier's head between his or her hair and the load being carried. The fields on either side of the road are dotted with farm workers, both male and female - the latter wearing colourful saris. Although a few tractors can be seen, there are still many bullock drawn ploughs.
Overtaking can be on either side of the vehicle that is being psssed, and frequently one meets vehicles or animals on the incorrect side of the road! We had a skillful, careful driver. I am grateful for his care, as we saw the results of quite a few horrific looking accidents en-route. In one case, a van carrying 9 people was crushed by an on-coming truck. As we passed the accident spot, we saw two of the nine dead victims lying in the middle of the road. It was an unnerving sight.
Just before reaching our destination, Hospet, we drove past the reservoir that contains water trapped by the enormous Tungabadra Dam. This hydroelectric dam, built many
years ago, was engineered by the late 'Keki' Parekh of Madras, the father of a good friend of ours. The waters of the reservoir were brown coloured because of the mud that was being stirred up by the waves being created by the wind. From the shore, the reservoir looked just like the sea.
We arrived in the town of Hospet safely, and booked into the Shanbag International Hotel. The rooms of this hotel are arranged in galleries that look onto an atrium. The staircases and the pillars of the atrium are made of white marble, and give the place an opulent feel. On opening the doors into the bedrooms, things begin to slide downhill, especially in the bathrooms where nothing works quite as it should. In all fairness, the beds were clean and comfortable, and the air-contitioning worked for half of that night!
Hospet offers little of interest to the conventional tourist. I find everywhere in India fascinating, so Hospet was no disappointment. By taking a wrong turn whilst looking for the town's bazaar district, we came a cross a small canal along which there was a footpath lined with flowering cannae. It passed a number of small
dwellings. At every doorway there were people sitting doing there domestic chores: cleaning, grinding foodstuffs etc. In one of them there was a sculptor who was modelling sculptures of Hindu deities in clay.
I am basically a carnivore, and like to eat meat at least once a day! That evening in Hospet we managed to find a decent restaurant (with good 'non-veg' food in another hotel, The Malligi. If you should ever go to Hospet - and you might well do so, as it is near to the famous ruins of Hampi - head for the Malligi: more or less the same price as the Shanbag, but is much better maintained. HOSPET to BIJAPUR
After a good night's rest in Hospet, and a good breakfast, we set off north by northwest towards the city of Bijapur - a place that I have long wished to visit (mainly because of some brochures I obtained when I first came to India in early 1994). After several hour's of driving we spotted a huge pyramidal shaped structure on the horizon. All of us including our driver Rahim were curious to see this enormous building. So we
followed a signpost that directed us to take a remarkably good side road that lead to the sangam (= union). The road was so good because it conducted pilgrims to a large religious complex at the point where two rivers met (hence the use of the word 'sangam').
There was a temple complex at the sangam and part of this was a covered pier, very similar in design to those seen at beach resorts in the UK. It was high above the waters and projected about 100 metres into the confluence of the two rivers. At its far end there was a circular structure (a tower) that rose from the water. Inside this there were two staircases that spiralled around the inside of the structure's inner walls.
They led down to water level where there were a number of religious idols. Pilgrims make there way down one staircase to reach the bottom, and return to the pier at the top by another. After visiting the temple, we drove a short distance and found, within the religious compound, a circular restaurant where we ate a simple, but well-prepared South Indian meal. At the recommendation of the owner I tried
a special rice based saffron flavoured desert: delicious! After lunch, we tried to find the enormous temple that we had seen from the road. From close up, it was rather hideous because it is unfinished and made of grey concrete. None of us felt like scambling though the muddy fields that led to it.
Our next stopping place was Almatti on the River Krishna. There is a hydroelectric dam at this small river crossing. A large 'colony' surrounds the dam. It is where the workers and admistrators connected with the dam live and work. This colony resembles a small town, but far more orderly and better laid out than usual Indian urban settlements. It has its own telephone exchange, post office, shops, restaurants, social clubs etc. Amongst the admistrative buildings there was an office for malaria control.
An enormous dome on the horizon is the first sign that indicates that the traveller is reaching Bijapur. This is the dome of the Gol Gumbaz, which dominates the city and its surroundings. We entered the city by a small dirt road liberally supplied with water filled pot-holes.
Our hotel, the Pearl, was situated, like much else in Bijapur, on
the towns widest and longest street. Our balcony looked out onto the street. From it we could watch the leisurely stream of traffic, much of which was drawn by bullocks. Bijapur is a far cry from over crowded, frenetic, bustling Bangalore.
After a brief rest, we walked along a side street that ran parallel to the main street. It passed through a bazaar, and after a while we reached the Jumma Masjid, the largest mosque in Bijapur. This mosque is reached through a large square courtyard and looks like an enormous open fronted verandah. The mosque is open to the elements. Unlike most mosques, there are no carpets on the floor - these were taken away by invaders (? Mughals?) many centuries ago. In their place there are 2500 prayer mat shaped outlines drawn on the floor of the mosque. These cover the entire floor.
From the Jumma Masjid, we returned to the hotel by way of a series of narrow streets. Everywhere we went, we were greeted by friendly children who wanted to shake our hands and ask our names. This reminded me of a trip I made many years ago (in the 1980s) to Kossovo in
Yugoslavia. When I stepped out of the bus in the town of Prizren, I, the only foreigner on the bus, was greeted by many people who wanted to know my name. Being Adam, they thought that I was Moslem, and they were very pleasant to me.
The children we met in Bijapur, and many other places on our trip, were curious about us. They wanted to know where we lived, and when they heard that we were from the UK, they practiced their (very) few words of English. To my surprise and pleasure, none of them wanted money: they just wanted to make contact. Many of them asked for "school pens". This surprised me because pens are very readily available, and at a low cost, in India. A few asked for chocolate. Much later on our trip, when we reached Aihole, a little girl asked for chocolate, and when I said that we had none (carrying chocolate in the Indian climate is a messy business!), she asked for bottles. We gave her an empty soft drink bottle, which satisfied her. In India, there is a way of reusing almost everything. No doubt, she would have been able to get
some small recompense for our bottle!
That evening, we were served a very tasty meal at the Pearl's restaurant. I ate some of the nicest tandoori chicken that I have tasted. Here in Bijapur, many people are Moslem, and many of them are meat eaters. And, being so far north of Bangalore, and quite close to Hyderabad, food and ways of life are less typically south Indian than in southern Karnataka or its neighbour Tamil Nadu. Even the languages spoken are different to southern Karnataka. Many people understand Kannada, but Urdu and a local language Konkanu (?) are more prevalent. BIJAPUR – a feast of Islamic architecture
We awoke on Wednesday to find that it was drizzling slightly, but that did not deter us from visiting the Gol Gumbaz. Set at the end of a long formal garden, and partially hidden by the gateway building in front of it the Gol Gumbaz is impressive to behold. Impressive, because of its size, rather than its aesthetics (which is not to say that it is lacking in beauty: but it is not as delicate as some of the other Islamic monuments we were to see later in Bijapur).
The building houses a number of tombs and is covered by the second largest dome in the world (its diameter is a few metres smaller than St Peter’s in Rome). At each of its four corners there is a tower perforated by arches open to the fresh air. Each of these towers contains a series of staircases that lead to a balcony at the base of the dome. We were directed to the tower that contained the staircase for ascending, and began the difficult climb. The difficulty lay in the fact that each stair was very high: maybe 50-60 cm on average, and none of them were the same or, even, level. Every few (about 10) stairs led top a landing and every second landing was at one of the arches that perforated the towers. As we climbed, the view became steadily better. At the top, we walked around the outside of the base of the dome, and then we entered inside it. A wide “whispering gallery” runs around the base of the dome, and from it one can look down into the cavernous Gol Gubaz. The acoustics of the dome are such that any sound travels around it, and
is multiplied to produce numerous echoes. Even with the small numbers of visitors present when we visited, the noise inside the dome soon became unbearable. When I got back to ground level, my legs felt as if they were made of jelly!
From the Gol Gumbaz, we drove back through the bazaar past the Jumma Masjid until we reached another mosque, the Mittai (? spelling) Mahal. The gateway to this mosque is an attractive elaborate three storey tower with bay windows that project over the street. The mosque itself was unremarkable except that its minarets were so narrow that it would have been impossible for anyone to climb them. Maybe, they were added as ornaments, but nowadays they have become functional because loudspeakers have been attached to them.
After seeing this mosque, we drove to a complex of bulidings that included an enormous audience chamber whose open front looked over a large square water tank. A sign outside this forbade the entry of women as this edifice has some important significance for the Moslems. I took off my shoes and entered the audience chamber, and discovered that Lopa and Mala had not missed much! Situated as it is next
A shoe repairer in Bijapur
to the remains of a gate through the city walls, the overall beauty of the complex and the gadens surrounding it made it a worthwhile visit for all of us. From there we visited another relic of the Bahman Dynasty who ruled Bijapur in the 16th and 17th centuries. This one was near to the city's court house (outside of which there sat many typists who were taking dictation for preparing legal documents) and on one side of a tree-lined river. It was closed to the public, but could be viewed well by walking along the river bank. We saw enough to realise that this building was a good example of Islamic architecture. By this time, we were now hungry and made our way to another hotel reccomended in our guidebook.
The non-veg restaurant was in the basement, and doubled up as a bar. With its poor lighting, and generally dingy appearance, this restaurant resembled the kind of sleazy dive that Bollywood villains used to be fond of in the films made in the 1970s and 1980s. I would not have been surprised had the film actress Helen suddenly leapt out into the restaurant to perform one of her
sensuous dances for us! Despite the rather unappetising appearance of the place , we were served a good meal.
After lunch we drove out of town following one of the ubiquitous black and yellow Karnataka Tourism signs. The symbol on the sign suggested that we were heading for some historic Hindu temple about 18 kilometres away from Bijapur. Actually, we had no idea what we would find, as the place was not mentioned in our guidebooks, nor marked with a 'place of interest' symbol in our detailed road atlas (the one published by the truck maker Eicher, which has proved to be very accurate, and infinitely better than any other road map published in India).
About 10 kilometers east of Bijapur, we came across a tourist sign that pointed to "Mahal". We followed the small sideroad through the village of Mahal until we reached the beautiful ruins of a palace in the Islamic architectural style. Nearby, and a cross a couple of fields we discovered another similar ruin, but this one was less well-preserved, blending, as it was, with the vegetataion that was invading it. It was a romantic ruin that would have delighted many painters. Even without the
ruins the village of Mahal would have been of great interest. The small dwellings that resemble in shapethe adobe houses that one associates with the deserts of North America are decorated with abstract paintings that have, no doubt, some religious significance. Apart from our vehicle, there were no other motorised conveyances. Animal driven vehicles ruled here.
When we reached the place that we were heading for, there was no Hindu temple to be seen. It turned out that the site to which we had been directed by the sign in Bijapur was the remains of a summer palace. This was a delightful complex of buildings surrounded by ornamental canals filled with water. In one of the buildings the caretaker pointed out to us the remains of the frescos that used to adorn the inside of this building. After exploring the summer palace, also in the Islamic architectural style, we returned to Bijapur, noting on our way the high density of Islamic ruins that dot the countryside around the city.
I have not yet described the pigs. Everywhere we went, in Bijapur and all of the other places we visited, the streets and lanes were full of wild pigs, mostly
black in colour. In many places there were more pigs than wild dogs. Their numbers rivalled those of the monkeys. Despite the fact that neither Moslems nor their Hindu neighbours eat or even use pigs, their presence seemed to be tolerated. These creatures snuffled about everywhere, often followed by crowds of tiny piglets. I can only imagine that their scavenging helped to reduce the amount of rubbish lying about. Our driver told us that he knew little about these wild swine, and was surprised to see so many of them - none are found in Bangalore, which is not free from roaming wild animals like dogs and cats and monkeys. He told us that recently a pig's tail was tossed into a mosque in the city of Mysore. This led to several days of rioting, and quite a number of injured.
Wherever we went, we encountered herds of goats being led along the roads, even on the national highways. The goats were of all colours. Each herd was looked after by one or two goatherds plus or minus a dog. The goats reminded me of the trips I used to make with Margaret and Robert Harkness (my PhD supervisors
who became close friends) to Platamon in northern Greece. We used to camp near to the beach. Every day a goatherd would pass us with his beasts. He used to stop and chat with us, giving Robert a chance to improve his broken Modern Greek. Our driver Rahim explained that much of the 'mutton' that is served in India is actually goat meat. This made sense because rarely have we seen sheep on our many trips through the southern Indian countryside.
We returned to Bijapur and headed for the Ibrahim Rauza, a delightful complex of Islamic style buildings surrounded by a wall. After removing our footwear, we entered the gateway and explored the two elegant buildings that stood on a raised platform in the midst of the complex. Each of them contains tombs of former rulers of Bijapur. Their open fronted verandahs, supported by a number of arches, face each other across a centrally located square tank (i.e. a pool). High above us parakeets darted about betweeen the various towers and domes that decorated the two mausolea. According too one of our guidebooks, it is bes to see the Ibrahim Rauza at sunset, but as we had not seen
any sun that day, and the blanket of clouds above us showed no sign of fragmenting, we did not wait for the impossible.
Instead, we headed off through the centre of Bijapur to the Upli Burdj. This is a tower, circular in plan, with a stone helical staircase that climbs up and around the outsideof its wall. I climbed the irregularly spaced steps to the top, and the sun made a brief appearance. Tthe top the tower is a viewing platform with two or three very old cannons. In one direction the dome of the Gol Gumbaz dominated the horizon, and in another, the much more decorative (and delicate) domes of the Ibrahim Rauza were silhouetted in the hazy sunlight.
That evening, we ate at the Pearl Hotel once more, and then slept well. A DAY OF TEMPLES
We left Bijapur early on Thursday morning. The sky had cleared, and the day turned out mostly sunny. We drove south on the road that leads to Hubli by way of Bagalkot. This National Highway was less busy than the roads that we had follwed from Bangalore to Bijapur. However, it was on this road that we passed the
site of the terrible accident which I described in the first part of this travelogue.
After passing the turning for Bagalkot, we took another side road towards the village of Pattadakal. Our first stop was at an old Jain (a religion based on Hinduism, but much more ascetic) Temple. A few workmen were working on the maintenance of the temple, and one of them, who seemed to be in charge, spoke to us. He told us that a few years ago the temple was in ruins, and almost unrecognisable. He had been responsible for sorting the ruined stones, and reconstructing the temple - a labour of love. In the porch in front of the temple there were two large carved elephants : one on each side of the door. From the porch, and through the vegetation that surrounded the temple, we could just make out the pyramidical shapes of the temples for which Pattadakal is most famous. So famous is the place that there is a large illuminated poster promoting it in the immigration hall of Bangalore's new airport at Devanhalli.
Pattadakkal is now a tiny village, but it is next to an archaeological complex containing six Hindu temples
built during the reign of the Chalukya Dynasty. The six temples are said to illustrate the stages in the evolution of Chalukya temple design, but this was lost on me. Their beauty was what interested me more. Most of the temples have tall pyramidical structures associated with them. These have rectangular bases and their height greatly exceeds all other dimensions. The external surfaces of these towers are carved with ornate geometric patterns. Inside the entrance porches of the temples, and also within the temples themselves, there are great numbers of beautiful carved sculptures.
Whereas the mediaeval temples in Pattadakkal are all confined to a compound fenced off from the rest of the small village, the opposite is true in the next place we visited, Aihole. A short distance from Pattadakkal, it feels as if there are almost as many old temples as modern dwellings in this village. The village sprawls across the slopes of a hill on the summit of which there is a temple that at first sight resembles the part of the Acropolis (in Athens) that bears the famous caryatids. One of the highlights of the village is a complex of temples that are ranged next to
a temple with a rounded, apse-like end. Near to this is a museum, which was hardly worth visiting because it only contained a few sculptures and a large model of the village of Aihole, complete with toy busses on its roads. Although interesting, if a visitor is short of time I would advise giving Pattadakkal priority over Aihole.
From Aihole we drove to Badami and booked into the Mookambika International Hotel: a well-run but grubby looking hotel. Its restaurant looked uninviting, so we went to the non-veg (meat serving) restaurant in the hotel next door to the Mookambika. This dingy restaurant was one of Badami's more popular drinking holes. We were directed into the "Family Room" which was even more depressing than the main restaurant, and completely airless and hot. With much persuasion the staff agreed to turn on the overhead fans, and the totally inadequate lighting. Despite the dreary surroundings we ate reasonably well. Lopa and I felt like having a beer. We were served a bottle Kingfisher Strong, the only beer that was available. It tastes quite different from the usual Kingfisher beer, but, to my taste, not nearly as good. The Strong tasted to me like
bad Guinness! BADAMI and BANASHANKARI
After breakfast on Friday, we drove to the cave temple complex in Badami. A set of staircases, 240 stairs in all, cut into the side of a rock overlooking the town leads to a series of four temples, one above the other. Each of these temples is carved from the 'living ' rock. These temples that were built in the sixth century (AD) are not constructed of bricks or stones, but are cut out of the rock. The staues and pillars that form part of the temples bear the same striations as the uncut rock that borders each temple. Each of the four temples differs from the others. As we gradually climbed from temple to temple, a magnificent panorama revealed itself in the cracks between the rocks that lined the staircases. In one direction, there was a sea of white, flat topped, single-storey dwellings which reflected the glare of the sun. In another direction, and directly below us was the dome of a mosque, and further around there was a deep blue lake. Men and women (mostly) washing clothes in its water. On the far shore there was a group of small temples,
the Bhutnatha Temples. And around the lake there was a series of garishly painted, modern models, depicting scenes from the Ramayan.
When we reached ground level, we felt like taking some liquid refreshment and bought cold drinks at a nearby stall. Our daughter had bough a bottle of some fizzy lemon drink, and briefly put it down on the bench where we were sitting. The bottle was closed with a screw top lid. Suddenly, she shreaked: her bottle had been snatched away by one of the many wild monkeys about which we had been warned. The thief shot up high into a tree above us, and undid the lid of the bottle. Soon the monkey, who was not keen on the drink, showed its disappointment by pouring the drink out of the bottle down onto the ground near our seats!
A short drive took us around the lake to a school near the Bhutnatha Temples. Our driver parked in the school yard and a teacher came out to see who we were. When we told him where we were going, he sent one of his pupils, a young girl with much poise, to show us the path to the
temples. Although not as spectacular as the cave temples, these buildings have much charm being, as they are, on a small promontory that sticks out into the lake. Once again our daughter had an encounter with a monkey. Against all advice, she sat down and put her bag, containing her money and camera, next to her. Within a minute or two a monkey had grabbed one of the bag's handles. Lopa swiftly grabbed the other handle and a tug-of-war commenced. Lopa's yelling, and strength, persuaded the simian bag-snatcher that it was onto a loser! Our daughter had a narrow escape.
For lunch, we drove out of town to the much vaunted Badami Court Hotel. It is located in a quiet rural spot and has a pleasant garden and a reasonable restaurant. It was double the cost of the Mookambika, but not, in my opinion, worth the extra cost. After a satisfactory meal, we drove back towards Pattadakkal, but turned off the road to Mahakutta (? spelling). A row of small shops lies next to the entrance to this small, still functioning, temple compound. Being the the hottest part of the day, there was not much activity except around the
deep, stepped temple pool (tank). A group of young men were bathing in its water and diving into it from a statue in the middle of it. When they saw us they wanted us to take pictures of them diving. We obliged.
Next, we visited the small village of Banashankari. This village is built around an enormous square temple water tank. The edges of the tank carry a covered colonnaded walkway. The whole thing looks like a water filled cloister. There were people bathing in the tank (mostly men) and others were cleaning clothes (mostly, if not entirely, women). Alomg the roadside edge of the tank there were numerous small stalls selling all manner of religious items including the coloured powders known as 'kumkum' and large nuggets of white chalk used for making the religious patterns drawn on the doorsteps of many Hindu houses. We bought a number of bracelets, before returning to Badami.
After reaching the Mookambika, I took a stroll around the small streets of Badami. Like the other places we had visited, people, mostly children, enquired where I came from. The town was full of wild pigs, mostly black in colour. Monkeys abounded. They used
the network of electric(?) wires that straddled the streets to cross them. I had been given two errands by the rest of the family. One was to find a pair of face tweezers, and the other to find a pencil sharpener. I was successful only in the latter quest, but the search for these things gave me the opportunity to explre the bazaar area fairly thoroughly. On my way back to the hotel I spotte a number of craftsmen soldering or welding bits of metal with arc-welding tools. They very obligingly allowed me to take photographs of them whils they worked. All over India, whenever Ihave asked people who were working on something - be it welding or cutting fruit- if I could photograph them, they agree, and , realising that I want to capture images of them at work, they oblige. They do not stop working and pose for the camera, but instead they allow me to picture them at work. Of course, my photographic activities arouse much interest amongst the bystanders, and I end up having to take pictures of the many children ( and also quite a few adults) who ask me to do so. Some of
them want to see the picture I have taken on viewing the screen of my digital camera, but others are just content to know that I have 'captured' them on camera. BADAMI to HOSPET
I was a little apprehensive about the conditions of the roads that we would encounter between Badami and Gadag, but I need not have been. The roads were marked as being 'minor' on my road atlas, but we found that they were no worse than the main roads, if not better because they carried less traffic. We drove to Gadag via Ron. At Gadag we stopped to refuel our Toyota Qualis. It was also neccessary to change a tyre there. I am surprised that we did not have to do this more frequently considering the enormous number of bad patches of road that punctuate almost every route we travelled. Years ago, just after we married, we drove from Bangalore to Ootacamund, and had to repair our tires almost every 50 kilometres. This was done at roadside stalls which were little more than a chair and a seemingly random assortment of tyres and other scraps of rubber.
After leaving Gadag, we joined the main
Metal workers in Badami
road that runs from Hubli to Hospet, and after a short ride we entered the small, but sprawling village of Lakkudi. This place has three old Hindu temples and a picturesque, overgrown decaying temple water tank which is reached by a staircase that leads down to it. A number of children came up to me and asked where I came from. One of them darted over to a statue which had lost its head, and hid behind it in such a way that his head appeared in the place that the statue's head had been formerly. Then, he beckoned to me to take his picture. Soon the children were joined by a weatherbeaten woman carrying a small child. She looked much older that she probably really was. She asked me where I came from, and then said in English: "My village". I replied: "Lakkudi", and she smiled broadly.
We continued to Hospet, where we left our luggage at the Shanbag Towers Hotel, where we had stayed a few days earlier. Sadly, we had pre-paid this hotel from London. Had we not done this, I would have preferred to stay at the much better Maligi Hotel in Hospet, or the
Mayura Hotel in nearby Hampi.
We visited Hampi, about 13 kilometres from Hospet, about 13 years ago when our daughter could not even walk properly, and were pleased to be able to revisit it. Hampi has to be seen to believed. Scattered over several square kilometres in a landscape of hillls made up of giant boulders piled haphazardly on top of one another, are the ruins of the city of Vijaynagar. Between the 14th and 16th centuries, this was one of the largest and riches cities in the world.
After lunching at the Mayura Hotel under a huge awning, well ventilated by the ever present cooling breezes, we set of to see the Lotus Mahal. This structure which is in a state of perfect preservation looks like a masterpiece of Mughal architecture. It's a masterpiece, but not Mughal. The Hindu rulers of the city of Vijaynagar were enlightened and open to outside influence, and employed Muslim builders to produce this beautiful example of Islamic architecture. When we first visited Hampi years ago, the ruins of Hampi blended seamlessly with the landscape. Nowadays, many of the ruins are either surrounded by high stone walls or by barbed wire fences. Many of
the monuments now require a ticket in order to enter the enclosures that contain them. When we first visited the Lotus Mahal many years ago, we saw it from the road and just walked through the fields to reach it. Today it is walled off from its surroundings, and from the long Elephant stables near to it. These stables, also built in the Islamic architectural style, consist of a number of open fronted chambers - each of which is large enough to house a fully grown elephant. The chambers are joined together to produce a long building. There is a dome above each of the chambers. One thing that had not changed since out first visit was the location, under a shady tree, of a coconut seller.
From the Lotus Mahal it is a short distance to another structure built in the Islamic style: The Queen's Bath. It is surrounded by a moat. A large square pool is surruonded by shady cloisters. Though named "The Queen's Bath", its function may have been otherwise. It may well have been here that the Kings of Vijaynagar sat and watched their wives frollicking in the pool.
We moved on to reach
the temple with pillars that emit musical sounds when struck gently. It is in the Vittala Temple complex. When we last visited it, 13 years ago, a caretaker present there demonstrated the extraordinary musical properties of this temple. What faced us when we arrived this July was a great disappointment. This delicate temple was in a terrible state. Its roof had collapsed and ugly pillars made of grey breeze-blocks were supporting what was left of the structure. A number of very vigilant security guards made sure that no one entered this crumbling structure. We were told that that the roof had collapsed about 10 years ago, and that nobody was allowed to strike the musical pillars. Apparently, many callous visitors had been very brutal when trying to make the musical pillars emit their musical sounds. Some had even hit them with iron bars. We left this site feeling disappointed that such a beautiful monument had been reduced to such a sad condition. The sun was beginning to set.
We returned to Hospet.There, I resumed my search for a pair of tweezers, and learnded that the local word for these is 'pluckers'. I was directed to a shop that specialised
in selling bangles, and the saleswoman there sold me a pair of the most badly made tweezers that I have ever seen - and in my work, I see quite a few of these! HAMPI and HOME
After breakfast on Sunday, we drove back to the Royal Enclosure of Hampi in order to visit the Stepped Tank. This is a wonderful square structure, but difficult to describe in words! Stairs descend into the pool, but they are not simple staircases.
After examining the tank and surrounding structures, we drove to Hampi Bazaar, which is approached by a road lined by structures that brought to mind distant memories of a trip to the Forum in Rome. This leads to a bazaar area. At one end of it there is a very tall temple goppura. The bazaar extends along the two sides of a long avenue that leads to a hill on which there is perched an enormous statue of the Nandi Bull. When we visited this place about 13 years ago, the bazaar was a typical lively Indian market place. Nowadays, the only vehicles allowed to drive allong the wide road are those beonging to the Police. The
liitle shops ahave been tidied up, and the place deemed a bit sterile. A small track led from this end of the market to the banks of the Tungabadra River. We had cool drinks in a shady café overlooking a bend in the river. Whilst there, we fell into conversation with an earnest young Canadian (studying medicine at the University of Yale in the USA) working on his lap-top. Mister Slowshower was spending three months in India studying HIV prevention amongst sex workers.
The path outside the café wound along the banks of the river. I followed it for a stort distance. It endtered a short tunnel through a rock, and there I came across a Swami or Saddu sitting in the shade in the Lotus position. Further on, I reached a vast slab of rock which extended like a quay along the water front. A number of women were drying the clthes they had washed in the river on this flat rock. Nearby there were a couple of coracles waiting for passengers. The only bridge across the Tungabadra in this area collapsed a few years ago, shortly after it had been built. The coracles, which since time immemorial
were the method for crossing the river, still continue to serve as ferrys.
Later in the day, after having eaten lunch at the Mayura Hotel, we visited the site of the collapsed concrete suspension bridge. There were a number of workmen working, to our eyes, less than half-heartedly on repairs to the bridge. However, the main roadway of the bridge simply sloped gradually downwards from the opposite shore until it reaced the surface of the river mid-stream. We were told that the stream was flowing too fast for us to be allowed a trip in a coracle. Despite this, we saw a number of coracles being rowed along the river, often laden with quite awkward looking loads.
We drove back from the bridge site towards Hospet. I stopped our driver at a particularly beautiful Golmhar tree (Corporation Tree). The countryside is full of these trees whose leaves are fern-like in appearance. The trees are covered with rich orange flowers with delicate white centres. This particular tree was positioned ideally for me to take close-up pictures of its flowers. Before reaching our hotel in Hospet, we stopped at one more ancient temple on the outskirts of the town.
Roadside café between Hospet and Chitradurga
The next day, we returned to Bangalore, pausing only twice to take rapid refreshments on the way. We arrived back with plenty of time to visit my mother-in-law, and to get ready for the birthday party which I described at the beginning of this travelogue.
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